zoo keepers in snow

Zoo Keepers Turn Snow into Fun

This week’s snowfall is creating big fun for zoo keepers and animals.  The extra clean-up is all in a day’s work, and zoo keepers welcomed the challenge with a fun and enriching attitude.

“We shoveled snow off the top of the lynx exhibit yesterday.  It was cold and the snow was heavy but Ashley [Hubbard] and I enjoyed the work,” said zoo keeper Rachel Purcell after spending Monday morning heaving loads of snow in below-freezing weather.  It was important that zoo keepers inspect the safety of all animal exhibits after Sunday night’s record snowfall, and ensure that the structures were sound.

Once the animals’ safety was in check, it was time to have a little fun with the 10+ inches of snow that nature sent our way.  Animal enrichment happens every day at the zoo, and snow provides unique opportunities for enrichment that aren’t available during the warmer months..  Animal enrichment means “providing a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental challenges for an animal.”

For the goats in the Indiana Family Farm, enrichment usually involves a snack.  Each time it snows, and when the weather is above 15 degrees, zoo keepers Heather Schuh and Kylie Kuchinsky let the goats outside for a taste of mother nature’s frozen treat.  “Yesterday we built them a snowman with food in it,” states Kuchinsky.  “They especially like molasses.”

For some zoo animals, it’s too cold to go outside during the winter months.  The Javan gibbons in the Indonesian Rainforest stay indoors in their behind-the-scenes area when the weather gets chilly, but that doesn’t mean they’re left out of the fun.  Zoo keeper Taylor Muzzillo brought the outdoors in this week when he offered the gibbons fresh snow flavored with sugar free drink mix.

Muzzillo loaded a large bucket with snow and brought it indoors.  He then built small enrichment stations in different places around the gibbons’ behind-the-scenes area.  The enrichment Muzzillo provided fell into three categories: textural, edible, and sensory – all of which provide stimulation for the animals.

“They like their snow,” stated Muzzillo.  “As soon as I open the door they all come swinging in.”

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